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Record number: WCP751

Sent by:
Alfred Russel Wallace
Sent to:
Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch
16 January ?1906

Sent by Alfred Russel Wallace, Old Orchard, Broadstone, Wimborne, Dorset to Frederick R. ("Fred") Birch [none given] on 16 January ?1906.

Record created:
18 March 2011 by NHM


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LETTER (WCP751.923)

A typical letter handwritten by author in English and signed by author.

Held by:
Natural History Museum
Finding number:
NHM Catkey-418764
Copyright owner:
ŠA. R. Wallace Literary Estate

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Broadstone, Wimbo<rne> [MS burned]

January 16th 190[MS burned]

My dear Fred

I did not get your long letter about your alpine adventures in time for las<t> mail, and have now just got yours dated "Chaguaramas"1 on your walk round N. W. Per<u> on which I hope you are travelling in light marching order, not with all your house<hold> goods on your back which as when climbing up Tucuché2 ! First a few remarks on that very herculean performance which you were ve<ry> lucky to come so well out of. Your birds-e<ye> view of your route was most excellent a<nd> interesting & I took a tracing of it to be a[MS burned] to understand your next visit there. So f<ar> as your letter shows you did not catch o<r> even see any butterflies on that 5 days rou<te> but the one caught at starting. But I suppose that was because you had so ma<ny> adventures to relate. But when I had finished your letter, and considered the whole nature of the country, I said to my<self> at once, here is a splendid locality for him to spend the whole dry season at, or <the> greater part of it. I can hardly imagine a[MS burned] better than Maraccas [sic]3 itself. It is near [MS burned] station and you can easily get to P. of <Spain>[MS burned] [[2]] [MS burned] <fo>r supplies. There will probably be some shops <th>ere, also children who will collect for you. You have there the splendid forest roads up to [the] Saddle4, and that to the waterfall, with the proper track or ridge to the mountain top -- all of which would be productive collecting grounds. Then there are probably some paths around in the forest, to other clearings or to wood-cutting places,-- and also the road down the other side to the north coast. Also there are numerous streams, all of which in open places would be butterfly-haunts. And if there is no wood-cutting going one you could here & there fell a tree on the path up the mountain and also on the road side in lonely places cut down a tree here and there and so get some beetle traps. It all seems to me ideally good. All you want is a hut or shed or the use of a room, or even of a verandah, and I hope you made some enquiries about it, as I do not see how you could possibly find a more suitable place for a good 6 months work. Mrs. Paradas, further up, where you staid [sic] 2 nights seems to have been a nice kind woman, but you never gave a hint whether she was white, yellow, <or> black, English, Spanish, or Mulatto, wife or <w>idow, or why or how she came there. She [MS burned] <m>ight have been an old friend or relation <tha>t we all knew perfectly well for any <in>formation you gave us !! You really seem [MS burned] at home there ! You did not tell [[3]] us what the road was like, how wide, wh[MS burned] a carriage road or merely a horse-track [MS burned] but I suppose the former, and whether the<re> is any village or town on the coast at en[MS burned] of it where you might also try a few days collecting at a time. I really hope to hear soon that you have arranged to go to this fine district, for though many visitors may have done some odd collecting along it that will be nothing to what you will be able to do as a resident. As I have no doubt you will h<ave> settled the matter for yourself before this reache<s> you I will go on to the other matter.

I expect the belt of low forest behind the coco<nut> plantations is really original & not second growth owing its poverty to the very poor sandy soil. The<re> is much of this in Guiana & I saw some on the Rio Negro. They call it there "Catinga"5 forest, and it seemed to me very poor in all life. But if cleared a bit it might produce some good beetles.

Now as to your future movements. If it were no<t> such a dreadfully risky country for foreigners, and especially for Englishmen after the way our Government treated Venezuela I should certainly say that the Callao6 district your friend the Spaniard recommended would be the very best place as I see there is a Railroad from the Orinooko7 [sic] now to it and a town Guacipati8 [sic] -- at the end, close to El Callao. It see[MS burned] across on a watershed between tributaries of the Orinook<o> [sic] and Cuyuni9, and I presume is a mining district. There would not be a railroad. That is so [MS burned] [[4]] [MS burned] easy to reach, and such an entirely new [MS burned]try for a collector, that nothing could be much [MS burned]ter if your life and collections would be safe <the>re. Have you learnt any thing more about it? Are there English or American miners there? The Railway & the Mines must use a lot of timber and there must be therefore timber cutting. Is there any direct communication to the port on the Orinooko [sic] from Port of Spain? The port is marked in my new Atlas Guayana vieja (Old Guayana [sic]) and there seem to be <se>veral other villages and places near the railway, [MS burned] Choco10, Santa Maria11, Nueva Providencia12. But even if you did go there what about the wet season again, which is probably at the same time there as in Guyana and Trinidad and it seems so long and so barren that I dread your being exposed to it again in a new place. André can probably tell you about that.

Now it was in consequence of the uncertainty & danger of these alternatives, & the doubt about your finding any good beetle collecting in Guayana [sic] (or Guiana) that I have been making enquiries, the result of which, so far, I will now give you. Be sure I do not want to "pack you off" anywhere, but where you can do best for yourself and for all your friends. I am in hopes that if you have a good collecting season time for the next 4 or 5 months of the dry season you may secure funds enough to go <fu>rther than B[ritish] Guiana. If not of course [MS burned] must go there -- to the Missionaries settlement, [MS burned] and give it a trial. But as there [[5]]13 have now been several amateur collectors there and will be more, among the miners and also, I hear, there is a professional collector gone into the interior, it will be advisable to try a better place if not this year, then next.

I first wrote to Poulton14, and he advised me [MS burned] write to Karl Jordan15 of Tring. From what I had read lately, I thought Paraguay might [MS burned] good & Poulton thought so too, but Mr Jordan said it was not good enough and there had be<en> several collectors there. He also says, they h[MS burned] "large quantities" of butterflies and moths fr<om> Trinidad". Then he says "A much better field would be the N.E. corner of Brazil from Bahia16 northwest, or French Guian<a>.

In another letter he says:- "Besides, quit<e> a number of Bahia birds are known from single specimens and are "trade-sk[MS burned] with no locality." He also says "the bu<tterflies> & moths from Bahia are also without local<ity,> showing that no good collector has been the<re> and he adds -- "A good beetle collector c[MS burned] do very well in the Campos."17

Then I wrote to Mr Godman18 that your [MS burned] collection had arrived, and asked his opinion and he replie<d> "I never thought B[ritish] Guiana a [MS burned] [[6]] from the things Whitely sent us from there. The mountains of N. Brazil are I fancy likely to prove far richer -- --

I have never had much from Bahia & Peruambuco19, except from near the coast. Old Cramers20 things came chiefly from the province of Bahia, and his figures show that they are a little different from specimens in modern collections." In a another <sic> letter he says - "Mr Schaus21 has just returned from B[ritish] Guiana with a very large collection, so I do not think Birch could do better than the mountains of Northern Brazil." He also told me that Mr Druce22 had brought a complete set of your Lepidopt[er]a and says that they are extremely well collected "and that he is very well pleased with them." Then I wrote to Mr Druce, asking if he had bought all your Lepidop[ter]a & to tell me if he would do so, [MS burned] as to tell me what he gave for them, to encourage you. [MS burned] reply he said: that he bought a complete [MS burned] about 4 of each species when there were [MS burned], that they are mostly small, [[7]] and a large number the same as from Venezuela." This was of course to be expected. Then he says, that he "does not think much of N. Brazil" and "that some parts of Ecuador and Bolivia would pay far better than Bahia."

Then I wrote to Mr Schill whose huge collection of beetles so astonished you. He says in reply -- "All I know is that a lot <of> good species of beetles come from Peruambu<co.> From Bahia I have had but few, and fro<m> the country behind hardly any, but I have never heard of any one having been there, though I have often tried. I shou<ld> think there must be a good field up [MS burned] some of those rivers which after all, are very large. Minas Geraes23 [sic] has been bett<er> worked and there are lovely things to <be> had from there." And he encloses me a letter of introduction for you to his Age<nt> at Bahia, who, he says, is "a Swiss, a ve<ry> nice fellow, and speaks English well." [MS burned] Mr Schill is a Brazil Merchant! He s[MS burned] to have moved, as he writes from, "The E[MS burned] Macclesfield." Now, the conclusi<on> [MS burned] from all this is that there h[MS burned] [[8]] [MS burned] good collectors in this part of Brazil for <a> very long time -- perhaps never. Scores of travellers have been to Bahia & Peruambuco <o>n the way to Rio or to the interior, or as business residents[?] and may have collected [MS burned] little near the city, and so the common showy things have got to be very common, & <t>hus people think the district is worked out <w>hereas it is probably hardly touched.

Then, although I know something of the country <ge>nerally, I sent for a lot of the best books I could get on Brazil from the R[oyal] G[eographical] S[ociety] library, <a>nd read them up. Only two had much of [MS burned] information I wanted -- "Hartts Geology [MS burned] Phys[ical] Geog[raphy] of Brazil" which I had reviewed [MS burned] "Nature" nearly 40 years ago but had <a>lmost forgotten, and a book on Bahia by <a> native translated for the information of <th>e Chicago G[rea]t Exhibition. From there I [MS burned]e come to the conclusion that it is an <ine>xhaustible country, and has certain special advantages over Guiana which I will try <to> explain.

<Al>l along the coast from Peruambuco south [MS burned]ia & on to Rio and beyond there are [MS burned]t forests for about 50 to 150 miles [[9]] in width. Most of it is hilly country [MS burned] to about 1000 or[?] 2000 feet to the upland campos, and everywhere intersected with numerous rivers and streams, with small old towns and villages at the mouths and inland. South of Bahia these forests are described as being extremely luxuriant, qu<ite> equal to those of the Amazon, especially in all the valley bottoms. In a great many of these districts dye woods and fancy woods are a regular article of export, and in some of them boat buildin<g> is a regular trade, implying timber fellin<g.> Going inland to the higher ground the forest becomes less luxuriant till on the plateau it merges into the "Campo", where the whole conditions are changed, the trees lose their leaves in the dry season, and all vegetation is parched, exc<ept> in the numerous river valleys. Here, [MS burned] the beginning of the rainy season the [MS burned] country becomes green and covered with [MS burned] flowers, and all life is abundant. [MS illegible] [MS burned] an interesting feature that in these [MS burned] with deciduous trees and shrubs, the[MS burned] [[10]] of the species is almost as great as in the tropical forests of the coast, and you as rarely find more than a few of the same species growing near each other.

Now, here we have the immense advantage of two districts adjacent to each other, in one of which the dry season in the other the wet is best for insect and vegetable life, so that the whole of the year can be utilised. Near Bahia there are numerous railroads by which the upland and campos can be easily reached.

I cannot get accurate statements about the wet and dry seasons, except that about January or February to April are the wettest, so that if you could reach there in May you would be at the beginning of the dry season, -- but [MS burned] you decide to go I will write (or you <c>an) to Mr Schills Agent for exact <det>ails as to this point and also as to [[11]] getting a cheap passage from Trinidad in local trading ships.

All the books I have read speak of the delightful bracing climate of these high "Campos", which really cover almost as much surface as the forests of the Amazon valley while they are probably far older, as the mountains of Brazil are older than the Andes. A Danish botanist, E. Warming24, lived 3 years at Lagoa Santa on the Campos nearer Rio, and in a space of about 8 miles square he collected 2600 species of plants. About 280 of these were trees & shrubs of the Campos, and 380 of the forests in the deep valleys -- the remainder dwarf shrubs or herbs. With this varied vegetation, and great antiquity, and immense extent, it seems certain, as Mr Schill says, that t[MS burned] must have been developed a corresponding[MS burned] rich and peculiar beetle fauna. I have as yet been able to find no one who has collected <in> these "campos", but Mr Wells, an engineer [MS burned] in a book I have read, says that in the [MS burned] clearing among rotting timber, beetl<es> are abundant, and several writers [MS burned] [[12]] speak of the great quantities of beautiful butterflies in all the patches of forests in the numerous small valleys. If you are at all disposed to go to work this country I will try and get more information about it, and you I should think you can find some one in P[ort] of Spain or elsewhere <w>ho has been there. Another important thing [MS burned], that the Brazilians are a quiet friendly <p>eople, that there are in almost every town or village in Brazil some English or Americans who are glad to see an Englishman, which is not always the case in an English Colony, [MS burned] that food fruit &c. is more plentiful and I think very much cheaper than in English Colonies. The distance to Bahia is no doubt <gr>eat, about as far as from England to Trinidad but if there are any coasting vessels there, from P<ort> of Spain, you could I dare say go very cheap as a Steerage passenger, or might offer to work as a carpenter or joiner for your <p>assage. If you decide to go I will try & <g>et you some Portuguese books to learn from [MS burned]d it is an easy language. Hoping when <thi>s reaches you you will be at length [MS burned] "good hunting" in glorious weather [MS burned].

[MS burned] Believe me │ Yours very truly │ Alfred R. Wallace [signature]


1. There are places called "Charaguaramas" in Trinidad and in Venezuela.

2. "Tucuché" is in Trinidad.

3. Maracas is in Trinidad.

4. The Saddle is in Trinidad.

5. Caatinga forest is a type of thorn forest found in Amazonia.

6. El Callao, a mining town in Venezuela.

7. The Orinoco river.

8. Guasipati in Venezuela.

9. The Cuyuni river rises in Venezuela.

10. Probably El Choco near El Callao, Venezuela.

11. Possibly Santa Maria near Upata, Venezuela.

12. Nueva Providencia, Bolivar, Venezuela.

13. The number 42 in pencil in the top left corner in an unknown hand. Also ARW has written and circled the number 5 in ink at the top of the page.

14. Sir Edward B. Poulton (1856-1943), biologist.

15. Dr Karl Jordan (1861-1959).

16. Bahia is a region of Brazil.

17. Grasslands in Brazil.

18. Frederick Du Cane Godman (1834-1919), naturalist.

19. Peruambuco is a region of Brazil.

20. Pieter Cramer (d. 1780), lepidopterist.

21. William Schaus (1858-1942), entomologist.

22. Herbert Druce (1846-1913), entomologist.

23. Minas Gerais is a region in Brazil.

24. Eugenius Warming (1802-1887), botanist.

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